From Syria to Russia Cyberattacks: U.S. Tensions with Russia Could Result in War

Originally published for the Penn Spectrum.

ARTICLE BY NICHOLAS DeSIMONE

After the Obama administration officially accused Russia of hacking the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in early October, a statement issued by director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) states, “we believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

The concern is that this accusation lacks any substantial evidence to ultimately determine that it was Russia that hacked the DNC. The only conclusion the U.S. can derive is that the stolen emails were posted to WikiLeaks and two other sites, DCLeaks.com and Guccifer 2.0, which are known to be associated with Russian intelligence. This exclusively should not be adequate enough to assume that Russia committed the attacks, especially when the consequences of such action could result in serious conflict between two nuclear-capable superpowers.

In late August, about one month prior to the Obama administration’s announcement, Hillary Clinton, when speaking on the campaign trail at the American Legion National Conference in Cincinnati, stated, “As President, I will make it clear that the United States will treat cyberattacks just like any other attack. We will be ready with serious political, economic, and military responses.” A ‘military response’ should have the American people somewhat alarmed considering the U.S. cannot definitively prove it was Russia that hacked the DNC. In fact, in mid October, Green Party candidate and assuredly no Donald Trump supporter, Jill Stein, stated, “it is actually Hillary’s policies which are much scarier.” Stein further stated, “it is now Hillary Clinton that wants to start an air war with Russia over Syria by calling for a no fly zone….under Hillary Clinton, we could slide into nuclear war very quickly from her declared policy in Syria.”

These DNC hacking accusations against Russia could not come at a worse time. In late September, the U.S. had been discussing plans to issue a “no-fly zone” over Syrian airspace in an effort to prevent Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad from dropping barrel bombs on his own citizens. While testifying during a Senate Committee on Armed Forces, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford gave a dire warning to Republican Sen. Roger Whicker of Mississippi, stating, “for us to control all of the airspace in Syria it would require us to go to war, against Syria and Russia.”

In early October, just after Gen. Dunford’s warning about the consequences of a U.S. no fly zone over Syrian airspace, Russia’s chief military spokesman announced, “any missile or airstrikes on the territory controlled by the Syrian government will create a clear threat to Russian servicemen.” This dire warning comes shortly after US-led coalition jets bombed positions of the Syrian government forces recently, in mid September, resulting in the deaths of 62 Syrian troops and injuries to 100 more, and a path for an Islamic State offensive. U.S. military officials claimed the pilots believed they were targeting the Islamic State. However, Damascus claimed that the incident was a “blatant aggression.”

Russia’s focus is not engaging in military conflict with the U.S. in Syria. In fact, they are in Syria assisting the Syrian government in eradicating the Islamic State, something the U.S. does not seem to be working towards very effectively by accidentally bombing Syrian government troops and claiming it was a mistake.

This U.S. intervention in Syria could be more than just combating ISIS, as is the claim. In October 2015, Hillary Clinton stated that removing Assad in Syria is top priority. From this statement, it’s very suspicious and somewhat unclear what the U.S.’s actual current intentions are in Syria, but Clinton’s statements suggest that the goal is regime change in the Syrian government, and the overthrow of Assad.

What’s more concerning is that the U.S. has a history of using government-sponsored terrorism to target governments friendly to Russia. In fact, it was Hillary Clinton that admitted the U.S. initially funded Islamic terrorism to combat the Soviet Union in the 1980s during the Soviet-Afghan War when stating, ‘we helped create the problem we’re now fighting.” Under Operation Cyclone, the CIA, through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), provided funding and training to the Mujahedeen to fight the Soviets that were invading Afghanistan by setting up training camps that trained Islamic militants in bomb-making, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare. However, radical Islamic fighters used the training camps that were funded by the CIA to support their own brand of radical Islamic terrorism, which grew to eventually oppose the U.S. and Western ideology. The aftermath of the war left behind some very specially CIA-trained Islamic militants that grew into what Hillary Clinton describes as the terrorists ‘we’re now fighting.”

In late September, the U.S. warned that it would “cut ties” with Russia if the Kremlin did not stop its attacks on the city of Aleppo. U.S. spokesman for the State Department, John Kirby, stated that if Russia does not stop, the consequences will be that “extremist groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria, to expand their operations, which will include, no question, attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities.” While it’s not clear from Kirby’s statement that the U.S. would send American-sponsored terrorist forces to attack Russian forces in Syria similar to what they did in the Soviet-Afghan War, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has blatantly accused the U.S. of backing terrorism and playing a “double game” in Syria by stating, “it’s always hard to play a double game – to declare a fight against terrorists but at the same time try to use some of them to move the pieces on the Middle Eastern chessboard in your own favour.”

It’s evident that Russia’s objective is to work with the Syrian government to combat and eradicate the Islamic State in the region. However, the U.S.’s objective in Syria, while ostensibly to fight the Islamic State in the region, seems to be much different, according to Sen. Roger Whicker’s inquiry to Gen. Dunford about targeting Assad, Hillary Clinton’s own statements to take down the Assad regime, and threats made to Russia by the State Department despite Russia’s efforts in combating ISIS.

According to ABC News, Russia is already preparing for war amidst these growing tensions between both nations and the battle for Syria and DNC hacks. However, other reports state that Russia’s preparations are just a hoax and a publicity stunt. What is not a hoax is the conflict in Syria and the condemning accusations of cyberwarfare that the U.S. has levied against Russia.

There’s one more piece to this puzzle that has remained unanswered. The U.S. is not the only entity contributing to the current conflict in Syria with an expected benefit. The U.S. has a partner – the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In January 2016, the New York Times reported, “American officials have not disclosed the amount of the Saudi contribution, which is by far the largest from another nation to the program to arm the rebels against President Bashar al-Assad’s military. But estimates have put the total cost of the arming and training effort at several billion dollars.”

So one might ask how the U.S. and Saudi Arabia would benefit from overthrowing Assad in Syria? The answer is simple: oil. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. would benefit greatly from destabilizing the Syrian government because it would gain them a strategic advantage in the oil and natural gas markets by targeting and controlling the oil fields and pipelines in Syria. As reported by the International Business Times (IBT), “Syria possessed 2.5 billion barrels of crude oil as of January 2013, which makes it the largest proved reserve of crude oil in the eastern Mediterranean according to the Oil & Gas Journal estimate. Syria also has oil shale resources with estimated reserves that range as high as 50 billion tons, according to a Syrian government source in 2010.”

In August 2013, as reported by the Guardian, “according to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, a memo from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to ‘attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years’, starting with Iraq and moving on to ‘Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.’ In a subsequent interview, Clark argues that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region’s vast oil and gas resources.” Now it seems there is more of a motive for the U.S. to invade Syria other than fighting Islamic terrorism, as they claim.

Syria is a key component in the pipeline wars because it is a regional transit hub for oil and natural gas pipelines. Furthermore, in 2009, Assad planned a “four seas strategy” to turn Syria into a major transit hub among the Persian Gulf, Black, Caspian, and Mediterranean Seas. For one, the Arab Gas Pipeline (AGP), which runs through Egypt to Jordan, Syria and Lebanon is one of many major factors the U.S. and Saudi Arabia could use to gain a strategic advantage in the natural gas markets. There is the old IPC pipeline that runs from Iraq into Syria, but ceased operations after the U.S. invasion in 2003, rendering it inoperable from multiple airstrikes. In 2010, the Syrian government signed an agreement with Iraq to build a gas pipeline and two oil pipelines beginning at oil fields near Kirkuk in northern Iraq to Syria’s port of Baniyas. In July 2011, Iraq and Iran signed a $10 billion dollar gas pipeline deal with Syria to be built by 2016 that would transport gas from the world’s biggest gas field, Iran’s South Pars, through Iraq to Syria.

The theme here is that all pipelines lead to Syria. It should be obvious that Russia would have a clear benefit in assisting Assad in their mission to protect the economic interests that exist in Syria as well as assisting in the eradication of ISIS that threatens the Assad regime. The U.S., however, appears to have other intentions intervening in Syria other than just fighting ISIS, as they claim, according the retired General Clark’s statements in the aforementioned. And in October 2016, a frightening reminder again surfaced during the final U.S. presidential debate when presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, reinforced her position for a no-fly zone in Syria. A U.S.-imposed no-fly zone in Syria would have disastrous consequences with Russia should Russia be obligated to uphold their no-fly zone and be compelled to shoot down unauthorized U.S. aircraft from Syrian airspace.

This potential threat of war with Russia should be of great concern for the American people. While it’s perfectly acceptable to be an alarmist about something as dire as climate change, a potential war with Russia should be taken even more seriously because it poses a more immediate threat. We should surely be questioning what the U.S.’s intentions actually are in order to determine the right course of action in a nation, Syria, which poses no immediate threat to the U.S. And with all of these accusations of Russian cyber threats against the U.S, which would result in a “military response” according to Hillary Clinton if she becomes president, the potential for war with Russia could be just over the horizon.